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If barbecuing to you isn’t much more than meat on a grill, you’re missing out. Besides basic marinades and classic American sauces, there’s a world of flavor from places like Argentina, Korea and the Middle East that can transform a rack of ribs or a plate of vegetables. Explore the secrets to great grilling — and find out why a cookbook author touted as “America’s Grillmaster” is now turning his attention to novels.
- Steven Raichlen culinary ethnographer, master griller, TV host, cookbook author and novelist; his most recent books are "Best Ribs Ever" (Workman) and "Island Apart" (Forge)
Steven Raichlen’s Recipes
Find more barbecue recipes, like Argentinean short ribs slathered in lemon brown sugar barbecue sauce and grilled angel food cake with berry salsa, in Steven Raichlen’s new book, “Best Ribs Ever.”
MR. KOJO NNAMDIRoasting raw meat over a live fire is the oldest cooking method known to humans, 2 million or so years old if you ask the experts. You might think there wasn't much more that we could learn, but you'd be surprised. For the past two decades, our guest has been studying and mastering barbecue secrets from around the world. Born in Japan and raised in Baltimore, Steven Raichlen is often called America's master griller.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIBut with more than two dozen cookbooks under his belt, including five that won the respected James Beard Award, he decided to try something new. Steven Raichlen joins us in studio. He's a culinary ethnographer, television host, master griller and prolific author. His most recent cookbook is ''Best Ribs Ever,'' and his debut novel is ''Island Apart''. Steve Raichlen, good to see you again.
MR. STEVE RAICHLENIt is great to be back. Thank you.
NNAMDICongratulations on the novel.
NNAMDIAfter writing 29 cookbooks, I guess we shouldn't be surprised you wanted to try something different. Why the novel?
RAICHLENWell, you know, I have a degree in French Literature. And had you asked me in college what I wanted to do when I grew up...
NNAMDII remember on an earlier visit, you told me that you'd always planned to be a writer.
RAICHLENAnd I always wanted to write a novel, and I made a long detour into food writing, which was fascinating and wonderful -- and I continue to do. But I always wanted to write a novel.
NNAMDIIt's his new novel. It's called ''Island Apart''. But we know you're going to have questions about grilling and barbecuing and the like, so here's the phone number. It's 800-433-8850. You can send email to firstname.lastname@example.org. You can send us a tweet, @kojoshow. If you're looking for a favorite way to grill ribs or want to share your secret with us, you can also go to our website kojoshow.org and join the conversation there, 800-433-8850. Plus you can find links to Steve's earlier appearances here in July 2006 and May 2010 at our website kojoshow.org, where you can find a selection of recipes.
NNAMDIBut get to -- back to writing the novel. Before we get to talking about the grill, you say you've always said that food is a powerful form of communication. And now you've managed to weave it as a form of communication into this novel.
NNAMDIBasic plot, if I'm not revealing too much, a book editor recovering from something is spending a year at the house of a friend in Chappaquiddick. We all know where that is. She meets a man known only as the hermit. They start a friendship, but they communicate through food. Could you read an excerpt from the book to indicate exactly how that happens?
RAICHLENThere ensued a singular courtship. You could call it a courtship at least for want of a better word. It was more than a series of random acts of kindness but less than an actual relationship. It was certainly singular as its participants neither courted nor spoke. They had, in fact, never consciously met. A few days after Claire had dropped the hermit's coat and the cranberry bread in the junkyard behind the cemetery, the same shopping bag, a little the worse for wear, appeared next to the fine black mailbox on North Neck Road.
RAICHLENIn it was Clair's pan filled with what appeared to be a loaf of nut bread. The loaf gave off a musky aroma whose origins Claire couldn't quite place. Well, I'll be damned, Claire thought, the hermit knows how to cook. The following week, Claire canned some rosehip preserves. She put a couple of jars in the shopping bag and returned to the path off the cemetery. She couldn't quite bring herself to venture as far as the bone yard, so she hung the bag from a protruding branch where she figured the hermit would find it.
RAICHLENA few days later, the bag reappeared, this time with a couple of old peanut butter jars filled with a dark crimson jelly. Claire unscrewed the lid of one and sniffed. The smell was at once familiar and exotic. Beach plum jam? She tasted a little at the end of a breadstick and licked her lips with pleasure.
RAICHLENYet this strange exchange of food was more than just an elementary tit for tat. It was nothing less than a dialogue phrased in flavor and spoken in spice with an eloquence worthy of a conversation in an 18th century French salon. One of the participants gave thanks for being alive. The other, after so many years of solitude, took some small pleasure in cooking for someone else.
NNAMDISteve Raichlen, reading from his debut novel. It's called "Island Apart." You studied at the Cordon Bleu in Paris, and you beat Japan's iron chef in a barbecue battle. Yet early on in "Island Apart," from what you just read, when it's time to say thank you, you say it with cranberry nut bread?
RAICHLENWell, my two characters, one of them is a hermit who goes weeks and months without speaking to anyone. And nobody really knows where he lives. He does something to help Claire. And she needs to find a way to thank him, but she doesn't know -- he doesn't have a telephone. She doesn't know exactly where he lives, but she sort of knows one place that he goes. So she bakes a loaf of cranberry nut bread and leaves it off for him. Now, simultaneously, the hermit will go weeks and months without speaking to another human being.
NNAMDIIndeed. He goes several chapters in this book without speaking to another human being.
RAICHLENAnd one of the challenges is, how do you describe the inner life of someone when they don't speak? So I did it through his love of foraging, his passion for food, his connection with the food ways of the island, and then ultimately through cooking.
NNAMDIYou've got to tell me what the process was for writing this novel and how it differed from anything else you've ever written before.
RAICHLENWell, about ten years ago, the words the hermit of Chappaquiddick popped into my head. That is the protagonist. It was also for many years what I thought would be the title of the book. And, basically, a guy for whom all the ties that normally bind us to the world are cut off, no friends, no family, no job, no colleagues, a man who's living off the grid and off the land and completely invisible to all of the neighbors around him. Now, Chappaquiddick Island turns out to be a pretty good place to do that 'cause we only have one paved road, and it's pretty secluded.
RAICHLENSimultaneously, I thought, well, okay, I've got him secluded, so now I've got to find a way to bring him back into the world. And let's see what will happen when he does. And that came through the agency of Claire Doheny. And somehow I knew her name would be Claire and that she would be a New York book editor because I wanted to incorporate real life characters...
RAICHLEN...like the iconic classic psychotherapist Wilhelm Reich, like Jean-Jacques Rousseau into the story as sort of foils and counterparts for the characters. I knew how the story would end. What I didn't know was what would happen in the middle. And that was kind of the discovery and the process of writing the novel.
NNAMDISo if there were 10 years between the title popping into your head, "The Hermit of Chappaquiddick" and the actual publication of the novel, and I guess that was the process for Steven Raichlen. So I guess it's time to get -- well, do we have any future novels?
RAICHLENWell, as a matter of fact, I've started another one. It's set in Portland, Ore. in an artisanal bakery.
NNAMDIOkay. It's set in Portland, Ore. in an artisanal bakery. Do you have a title in your head for that one yet?
RAICHLENDon't have a title, but sort of the basic premise is going to be about a man who gets the opportunity to reinvent his life. And, you know, we all crave that, if 20 years ago, if only I had done this, not that. He's going to get the chance, and we're going to see whether it can really make a difference or whether character determines your fate.
NNAMDISteven Raichlen, novelist, his debut novel is "Island Apart." You know him better as a culinary ethnographer, a television host, a master griller, and a prolific author. His most recent cookbook is "Best Ribs Ever." And I'll let the audience take us to where it wants to go by starting -- if you'll put on your headphones, Steven -- with Millie in Mount Pleasant in Washington, D.C. Millie, you're now on the air. Go ahead, please.
MILLIEHello. Hi, Kojo. Hi, Steve.
MILLIEI'm a big fan of both of you.
MILLIEThis question actually is from my boyfriend who's at work and, unfortunately, cannot call in. He's from Texas, so he loves to grill. Is it true that you should avoid sugars in your rubs because they'll burn? Or is that only true for grilling over direct heat rather than indirect or smoking?
RAICHLENThat is a great question. It actually just came up on Facebook a couple of days ago, and it's sort of a paradox because most barbecue rubs do contain brown sugar or white sugar or some sweetener. And when you apply them to meat, indeed, you get a wonderful caramelized crust. But they don't burn. On the other hand, if you apply a sweet barbecue sauce to a meat too early, it will burn. Why not?
RAICHLENWell, I think what happens is that when you put a rub on the meat, the sugar actually mixes with the meat juices and penetrates the meat, so it is less prone to burn -- caramelize and burn than a sauce which stays on top of the meat would be.
NNAMDIMillie, thank you very much for your call.
NNAMDIYou, too, may want to call us, and you may want to kind of go to the theme of this new novel "Island Apart." Do you communicate through food, and if so, how? Give us a call, 800-433-8850. What are you trying to say, and what do you use in terms of food when you try to say it? 800-433-8850. Of course, you could call for tips on barbecuing or send email to email@example.com or send us a tweet, @kojoshow. Steve, do you think most Americans are missing out because we think ribs just mean pork or beef? You say it's time for us to start thinking lamb.
RAICHLENAbsolutely. Lamb ribs are terrific. On any given day on planet barbecue, probably more people are grilling lamb than any other meat. The beef zone, primarily North America and Europe, the pork zone, primarily North America, Europe, South America, too, for beef, but if you think about the lamb zone, it begins in West Africa. It goes across North Africa, the Mediterranean, Middle East, Central Asia, India, down into Thailand, Indonesia, Australia and New Zealand. So, I mean, lamb, it's what's on the grill.
NNAMDIYou say ribs are pretty easy, but first you've got to understand the basics. What are the basics?
RAICHLENWell, you have to understand three things. Number one, ribs are -- it's a tough meat with a lot of connective tissue. So you need to cook the meat in such a way as to melt the collagen and tenderize the meat. The second thing you have to realize is this is best done by working low and slow rather than by boiling the ribs. And the third thing you need to understand is what constitutes a good rib. Now, we have this expression that people throw around a lot, fall-off-the-bone tender. For me, a rib should not be at fall-off-the-bone tender.
NNAMDIWhy do we have teeth?
RAICHLENExactly. It should have a little chew to it. That's why God gave us teeth.
NNAMDIThank you very much for that because falling off the bone, you don't really get to enjoy all of the flavor that you get from biting into the thing.
RAICHLENWell, absolutely. And if you think about boiling ribs -- so when do you boil bones? You boil bones to extract the flavor from the bones and put it in the broth to make soup. And that's exactly what happens when you boil ribs.
NNAMDITwo recipes that looked enticing and not that hard were North African ribs and Tandoori ribs. Can you share those secrets with us?
RAICHLENAbsolutely. Both are lamb ribs. North African ribs begin with a spice paste inspired by the North African Burberry spice mixture or berbere spice mixture. For aromatics, it contains onion, garlic, ginger, hot peppers. For sweet spices, there are notes of cinnamon and cardamom. There's a little fire in the form of chili powder, lemon, olive oils, very fragrant aromatic paste. Now, one of the interesting things about the way ribs are cooked in North Africa, and for that matter in France, contradicts what I just said earlier about low and slow. They're very often cooked on a rotisserie.
RAICHLENAnd the beauty of rotisserie with ribs is that slow gentle rotation does a sort of external basting of the ribs as the fat melts. It's also a great way to tenderize the meat without burning it as you would if you put the ribs directly over the fire. Tandoori ribs take their inspiration from India. Tandoor, the world's oldest surviving barbecue pit, 5,000 years old -- although in the beginning it was used more to roast bread rather than to roast meat.
RAICHLENThe marinade is based on yogurt, which has a tenderizing effect, and it's based on something called hung yogurt. And when I first started writing about barbecue 15 years ago, I'd advise getting yogurt and hanging it in a cheesecloth. Well, now you can buy Greek style yogurt. And Greek yogurt is hung already. It's very rich, very creamy. It doesn't have all that loose liquid in it. It makes a great marinade.
NNAMDIWe're talking with Steven Raichlen and encouraging your calls at 800-433-8850. If you go to our website kojoshow.org, we've posted a first time ribs recipe along with an Argentinean short ribs recipe, a recipe for Argentinean pesto, a lemon brown sugar barbecue sauce, and a recipe for grilled angel food cake with berry salsa and tequila whipped cream. That's if you go to our website. Let's go to the phones again and talk with Simi in Dallas, Texas. Simi, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
SIMIHi. Well, I just wanted to share how I communicate with food, and it's really as a thank you for a lot of the teachers and administrators for my children. My son -- I just started doing it when he started kindergarten, and apparently baking from scratch from home and taking it to school is an old art. From what I find out, most people tend to just go and buy something as a treat and give it to teachers or, you know, special people. But since I've started baking from scratch, they seem to appreciate it a lot more, and just wanted to share that with you.
RAICHLENI am doubly delighted to hear it. First of all, because made from scratch is better than anything, and it's -- in my book, I say they not only -- you know, they not only were technically expert, but they gave a little piece of their souls in each dish. And the second reason I'm delighted to hear your call is I think teachers are so underappreciated this day and age. And teachers are so important. Teachers are the future of our country and of the human race. And, God, thank a teacher for doing what they do. Thanks for calling.
NNAMDIAnd, Simi, thank you very much for your call. We got an email from Sandra in Shepherdstown, W.Va. who says, "I've always loved food, especially fish tastes when grilled over wood. But despite trying a bunch of different kinds of woodchips, I've never mastered this. Any advice?"
RAICHLENWell, I do as a matter of fact. And, first of all, there are two ways to approach grilling over wood. And one is actually to use wood chunks instead of charcoal. Now, go to a barbecue store or a hardware store, buy hardwoods. Good woods would be oak, apple, hickory. These are all excellent. The chunks are about two inches square. And light them in your chimney starter much the same way you would charcoal.
RAICHLENWhen the wood is lit and reduced to glowing embers, dump the chunks out in your grill and grill the fish over that. You will get an amazing flavor. However, if you don't want to try that, what I recommend doing is a good bed of natural lump charcoal. And right before the fish goes on, toss on a handful of soaked hickory, oak, cherry or apple chips. Why soaked? So that they smolder and smoke rather than catch fire instantly.
NNAMDISteven's got barbecue recipes using everything from Cherry Coke to Hershey's chocolate to peanut butter. What is your secret to making the best barbecue? Call us. Share your secret ingredients with us at 800-433-8850. Here is Stan in Rockville, Md. Hi, Stan.
STANHi, Kojo. How are you?
STANWell, I like to -- when it comes to cooking food, you know, I like to show why I choose my culinary adventures and whatnot. And, you know, when it comes to sustainable food, like certain fish and whatnot, I like to look up what's good to use versus seafood that's been slowly, you know, replenishing itself. So when I cook, I like to communicate my culinary choices through the foods that I use and let people know that, you know, you come to my house, you're going to eat stuff that's sustainable and that's not being overfished.
NNAMDIEven some restaurants now are practicing that, Steven Raichlen.
RAICHLENThat is great advice, and that is a great thing for all of us to keep in mind.
RAICHLENThank you so much for adding that.
NNAMDI...sending a good message with your food, Stan. Here is Hasan in Ashburn, Va. Hasan, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
HASANThank you, Kojo -- all right?
NNAMDIYeah, go right ahead.
HASANI would love to know the best thing you've eaten and where.
NNAMDIThe best single thing he's ever eaten and where?
RAICHLENOh, my God. Well, that is a real toughie. That's a little bit like, you know, if you're a parent, asking which is your favorite child, and...
NNAMDIThat's true, yeah.
RAICHLENBut I'll tell you what. It's very close to home. It's going to surprise you because it isn't even cooked on a grill. And that would be Maryland steamed crabs. I grew up in Baltimore, and, you know, for me, that's what I want for my last meal.
NNAMDIHasan, thank you very much for your call. 800-433-8850 is the number you can call, too, if you'd like to join the conversation. You can send a tweet, @kojoshow, or email to firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also go to our website, kojoshow.org, and join the conversation there.
NNAMDII'm glad you mentioned earlier in the conversation that the Tandoori grill is the oldest because I'm interested in some of the history of barbecuing. Tell us -- talk a little bit about the cultural, the etymological origins of barbecue, including unexpected contributions by Homer, St. Lawrence, George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, Henry Ford.
RAICHLENOh boy, that's a long list. Well, first of all, you're...
RAICHLENYeah, by Homer -- you're anticipating a talk I'm going to give at the Library of Congress tomorrow...
NNAMDIAt 11:30 a.m. in the dining room A of the Library of Congress, James Madison building. He'll be talking about man, food, and fire, and no tickets are needed.
RAICHLENBut, in any case, I mean, to begin at the very beginning, about 1.8 million years ago, a distant human ancestor called homo erectus made a startling discovery. And that is you could cook meat with fire. And when you did, it was easier to chew, which helped reduce the giant jaws and giant teeth that you find in other primates and pre-homo erectus ancestors. Cooked meat is much easier to metabolize, which led to an explosion in the size of the brain. Homo erectus' brain was three times larger than his predecessor.
RAICHLENSocial organization was different because we now, for the first time, have a primate that shares his food and shares the activity of cooking and shares the activity of eating. Even the division of labor where one spouse or one part of the community goes out and hunts and gathers, brings home the bacon as it were. The other stays home and tend the hearth. That originated with the discovery of fire for cooking. So you could truly say that barbecue begat civilization.
RAICHLENNow, to go down your list very quickly, so Homer, first of all, the night before one of the battles at the Battle of Troy, steers are brought in. They're sacrificed according to the holy way. They are -- the leg meat is wrapped in beef fat. It's seasoned with sacred salt. It's cooked on a wood fire, alternately being doused with olive oil and wine. Of course, we know at the time the wine would've been retsina, a resin-flavored wine because resin was used to seal the wine skins. That's a dish described in three lines in "The Iliad." I have made it. It's absolutely fantastic.
NNAMDIYou're a walking encyclopedia when it comes to barbecue.
RAICHLENSo who else did we have? St. Lawrence. So St. Lawrence...
RAICHLEN...he is the patron saint of cooks and of grill masters. And the reason is that his particular martyrdom involved being cooked alive on a grill. And he is rumored to have said to the people who were torturing him, I'm cooked on one side. Turn me over and cook the other.
NNAMDIOkay. I'll skip to Henry Ford.
RAICHLENHendry Ford, so good industrialist he was, had a lot of wood scraps left over from manufacturing Model T Fords, had read about a process where you could grind up the wood with coal dust borax petroleum binders and stamp it into a pillow shaped -- little -- what became known as a briquette. And he actually started a company called the Ford Charcoal Briquette Company. I hadn't heard of it either, Kojo, but he did sell it to a relative whose last name was Kingsford. And the rest, as they say, is history.
NNAMDIYou cannot stump this chef when it comes to barbecuing. Steven Raichlen is with us. He's got a new novel. It's called "Island Apart." You probably know him better for his cookbooks, his most recent of which is "Best Ribs Ever." Back to the telephone. Here is Hamsa in Potomac, Md. Hamsa, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
HAMSAKojo, it's been a dream to be on your show most of my life, and now I have a chance to do it. I just wanted to share a few recipes (unintelligible) off the top of my head for Tandoori barbecued chicken. And it's a big favorite at my house, mainly because we're from Pakistan with Afghan origins. And so Tandooris a are a big part of our background. And one of the things we like to do is that we like to marinate the chicken for as much as 12 hours, sometimes 14 hours, so that it can really soak in.
HAMSAAnd we try to use as spicy as possible red peppers we can find in the store in addition to crushed chili red peppers because we like to see our mouths hurt. But I was curious to know if the author had any experience at all with using gas tandoors instead of wood-burning tandoors, and if there's really a difference. I've always been of the opinion that, well, wood-burning tandoors are a lot better. But I'm curious to hear if the author has other thoughts. And I'll take my answer off the line.
RAICHLENI have seen gas-burning tandoors. I know that they are used by many a respected restaurant. I myself cannot bring myself to use one. And given the option I chose a charcoal-burning tandoor. You know, this is happening in barbecue all over. And in North Carolina, which is certainly no slouch when it comes to barbecue, more and more cookers are being converted to gas and even to electricity, horror of horrors.
RAICHLENNow, here's the deal. With Tandoori food from India, Pakistan and Afghanistan, smoke is not an integral part of the flavor profile. You may get trace elements of smoke. But in the Carolinas, smoke is the soul of barbecue. So when you switch to a gas fired pit, you're losing that smoke flavor.
NNAMDIGot to take a short break. When we come back, we'll continue our conversation with Steven Raichlen. He's a culinary ethnographer, television host, master griller and lately a novelist. His debut novel is called "Island Apart." His most recent book is "Best Ribs Ever." You can join the conversation by calling us at 800-433-8850. Do you want to know more about Steven Raichlen the novelist? You could also send us email to email@example.com or send us a tweet, @kojoshow. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIWelcome back. We're talking with Steven Raichlen, culinary ethnographer, television host, master griller, prolific author. His debut novel is called "Island Apart." His most recent cookbook is called "Best Ribs Ever." We're taking your calls at 800-433-8850. Here is Woody in Manassas, Va. Woody, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
WOODYThank you, Kojo. My question is very simple. Is there a difference between fire from the wood versus fire from the gas in terms of temperatures? Taste we already know, but the temperature -- or does it make any difference?
RAICHLENYes. And if I may, I'd like to add a third kind of source of fire, and that would be from charcoal. And let's say natural lump charcoal just to be safe. So the hottest burning fire comes from charcoal. And wood also gives you a hot fire, but charcoal produces no smoke flavors, whereas wood gives you both smoke and heat. That's why I'm such a big fan of grilling over wood. Gas is, I guess, my lease favorite fuel. Historically…
NNAMDINot that you don't use it.
RAICHLENWell, no. I actually do own a gas grill, and we do use it 'cause, you know what, I'll come home from work tired like everybody else on a week night and I'll turn on the gas grill. Historically, gas grills didn't burn as hot and it was a wetter flame so you didn't get quite the searing and caramelization that you do with a charcoal fire. But the newer gas grills are really getting better and getting hotter.
NNAMDIThank you very much for your call, Woody.
NNAMDII was a bit surprised to learn that, after all these years that, when you were home, you still grill three or four times a week.
RAICHLENWell, I do because what got me into barbecue keeps me in barbecue, and that it is simply the best method for cooking virtually everything. Vegetables taste sweeter. Meat tastes smokier. It's fun. It's dramatic. If you're a guy, you enjoy the act of playing with fire. It answers all of our needs.
NNAMDIEnjoy the act of playing with fire. We got a tweet from David who says, "My girlfriend is vegetarian. Can you give me some good ideas for all veggie grilling techniques?"
RAICHLENAbsolutely. And I speak very much at first hand because, when I wrote my first barbecue book "The Barbecue Bible," both my wife and my daughter were vegetarians. So there are a lot of meatless dishes in those books. But one thing -- the way I kind of always solve a barbecue problem is I kind of go through my mental inventory of what do grill masters in other countries and cultures do?
RAICHLENSo we had talked about India first. India has a huge vegetarian population, a great tradition of grilling, and you put them together, and you get dishes like a kabob of paneer cheese, which is sort of an Indian mozzarella-like cheese. And you make kabobs with this cheese, with onion, tomato and with poblano chilies. And the marinade, it's a melted butter, lemon cumin, turmeric basting mixture.
RAICHLENIn India, it would be cooked in a tandoor, in a vertical oven. In the States, you can do it on a conventional grill. Absolutely terrific. Another country that has solved this problem is Japan where one of the national dishes is called dengaku or tofu on stilts. And it's grilled tofu with a miso barbecue sauce. You get that kind of sweet, salty sauce that we like...
NNAMDIYou love marinating and grilling tofu.
RAICHLENI do. Yeah, I'm a great fan of tofu.
NNAMDIOn to Sarah, speaking of vegetarian, in Fairfax Station, Va. Sarah, your turn.
SARAHHi, Kojo. Two things. I wanted to share -- I guess this is timely because your last guest was asking about vegetarian -- and I'm from Syrian background -- and wanted to share my favorite, cooking eggplants. We make (word?). We call it -- over here, you know, most people call it baba ganoush. And when you grill the eggplant, what we do is -- I mean, when -- yeah, when you use the grilled eggplant, it gives such a superior flavor to the baba ganoush.
SARAHSo -- but the trick is you have to grill it whole, of course, but you leave it -- we -- my mother always left it for, oh, a good four or five hours wrapped in aluminum foil so that the smoke -- the smoky flavor and the juices can penetrate the eggplant after it's collapsed. And then we make it. So that's that. And we also like to grill squash until it's soft.
SARAHAnd then afterwards, we take it off the grill and mash some garlic in olive oil, and we eat it with the pita bread. And that's what we like. And I've got a question for Mr. Raichlen, who -- I love his books by the way.
SARAHAnd my question is, you were mentioning you're using, instead of charcoal, using the wood. But the wood that I can get at the hardware store is all pressure treated. Is that safe?
RAICHLENNo. You should never use pressure treated lumber. One of the chemicals in pressure treated lumber to keep it from rotting is arsenic. What you need to do is go into the barbecue section of your hardware store and look for bagged hardwood chunks for smoking.
RAICHLENBy the way, with regards to the eggplant dish you described, when I make that eggplant dish, what I like to do is I like to lay the eggplants right on the embers without using a grill grate. That's a style I call caveman grilling.
RAICHLENThey go right on the embers.
SARAHYeah, they did that, too, in Syria, but it's easy not to cut it. You just leave it. My mother always just pokes holes in it and grill it on the grill until it collapsed.
RAICHLENThat's right. Hey, listen, I hope your family is okay back there.
SARAHOh, keep our fingers crossed. Thank you so much.
NNAMDIKeeping our fingers and our toes crossed in that situation. Tom in Aspen Hill, Md. Tom, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
TOMYeah, hi. Great show. I just wanted to add I had been at a Smithsonian event years ago, a class that was about seafood. And I learned about cedar planking. And I didn't know whether -- can you -- experimented with that at all?
RAICHLENWell, I have used cedar planking very often for the obvious uses, like cedar plank salmon, which is a great way to cook salmon. By the way, for -- if you're not familiar with the technique, it involves taking a cedar plank, soaking it in water to keep it from catching fire and laying a piece of fish on top and then indirect grilling the fish, that is, the fire to the side, not directly underneath the fish.
RAICHLENGreat method because it gives you a unique flavor, and it also keeps the fish from sticking to the grill grate. Most recently, at my school, Barbecue University, we cedar planked camembert cheeses with a wild mushroom hash on top. And I got to tell you, that was pretty spectacular.
NNAMDITom, thank you very much for your call. You got it?
TOMYes. I just have one -- I buy the planks as untreated shingles from Home Depot.
TOMAnd then, you know, they last for two or three cookings and then kind of char themselves out of business. But they're very inexpensive that way.
RAICHLENThat's very smart.
TOMAnd there's a lot of stuff that cooks really well on top and gives it great flavor, so thanks.
NNAMDIThank you very much. We wanted to get back now to the theme of the novel with Lauren in Arlington, Va. Lauren, your turn.
LAURENHi, Kojo. Hi, Steve.
LAURENYou had asked how you communicate with food. I cook for people to tell them I love them.
NNAMDIYou mean, you don't cook for people you don't like?
LAURENIf I don't like somebody, they're not invited to dinner.
RAICHLENYou don't cook for them. But, you know, it's interesting. I was thinking about some of the meals in "Island Apart." And the first meal is sort of done out of curiosity. And there's a little bit of showboating because Claire, my heroine, realizes that, in the hermit, there is someone who can really appreciate good food.
RAICHLENAnd there's another meal that is done out of anger. Claire has discovered something about the hermit she doesn't like, and she makes an entire meal out of frozen and canned food for him. Now, Claire's a pretty good cook so it's a good meal, but I thought the symbol of that -- the symbolism of that is really fun. And, of course, you can cook for seduction, and you can cook -- you can express tremendous amount of emotion with cooking, so the people on the receiving end of your cooking are very lucky.
LAURENWell, it's a pleasure for me. And the other thing I love to do for people is to cook from their home regions. We've got dear friends who are from the New Orleans area, and I only cook Cajun for them. But it's a way to let them know they're very welcome in my home.
RAICHLENWow, that is great. What a great idea. I think next time I do ribs I'm going to pick ribs from the country of origin.
LAURENWhat a great idea. Thank you.
NNAMDIThank you very much for your call. You, too, can call us at 800-433-8850 to tell us how you communicate through food. Or if you have a favorite way to grill ribs, you can share your secret with us at 800-433-8850.
NNAMDIWe got this email from Andrew in Vienna, Va. "I'm not much of a chef, but I do love grilling. Having gone to school decades ago in North Carolina and later in the Deep South, I've always wanted to master a great barbecue recipe, but I'm at a loss. Can you talk to us about the difference types of American barbecue, whether to go pork or beef, wet rub or dry, direct heat or indirect? You get the idea."
RAICHLENI do. Well, boy, for someone who's not much of a cook, you certainly know the issues. In a nutshell, sort of four mega regions of barbecue, North Carolina, where pork is king, interestingly, it's not ribs. It's the pork shoulder or the whole hog. Memphis, where pork is also king, either pork shoulder or the ribs. And the most interesting contribution of Memphis to the world's barbecue scene is the dry rub rib. That is a rib that is cooked thickly crusted with a dry rub but no barbecue sauce or barbecue sauce on the side .
RAICHLENJump to Texas, and beef is king. Seasonings are kept to a minimum. The three greatest barbecue places in Texas use nothing more than salt and pepper by way of seasoning. One of them doesn't even serve a barbecue sauce. And, finally, Kansas City, the most ecumenical of the regions, beef is king. Pork is king. Even chicken has a pretty high profile. What distinguishes the Kansas City style of barbecue, two things: first of all, heavy smoke flavor, second of all, a sweet thick smoky barbecue sauce.
NNAMDIAnd lamb is king nowhere in the United States?
RAICHLENNo -- well, lamb, no. But mutton is the traditional barbecue of Owensboro, Ky. You put a pin in the map. You draw a ten-mile radius around it. You find barbecued mutton there and nowhere else on the planet.
NNAMDIWhat's the difference between dry rubs and marinades?
RAICHLENWell, a dry rub is a mixture of dry seasonings. A marinade is, by its nature, wet. It can either be a liquid like teriyaki or yakitori marinade. It can be a paste like Jamaica's jerk, but it's the idea of wetness. And it would be very neat and lovely in the world if you could say use dry rubs with fatty foods like ribs or pork shoulders and wet marinades with lean foods like fish fillets and steaks. But, in fact, grill masters around the world use dry rubs with dry foods and marinades with fatty food. So there really is no rule.
NNAMDIBefore one can become or ascend to being a grill master, one has to start someplace. Talk about the basics of setting up a grill.
RAICHLENWell, first of all, you need to make the decision of charcoal or gas or wood. Second of all, you have to understand the difference between direct grilling and indirect grilling. Indirect grilling, you build a bed of coals. You put the food directly over it. This is well suited for steaks, chops, quick cooking and in terms of ribs, the country style rib, which is a sort of pork chop. When you set up a grill for direct grilling, I like to build what I call a three-zone fire -- a three-tier fire.
RAICHLENThat is coals mounted thickly at the back for searing, coals spread out a little bit more evenly in the center for cooking, no coals in the front. That is your safety zone. That's where you move the food if it starts to burn or you get a flare-up. In indirect grilling, the fire is -- the coals are raked to the opposite sides of the grill, or if you're working on gas, you light the outside burners or front and rear burner. You do your cooking in the center, so it's not directly over the heat. It's an indirect method with the grill lid closed, which turns your grill into a sort of outdoor oven or smoker.
NNAMDII can't let you leave without talking about your grilled angel food cake and berries. How do you do this and why?
RAICHLENSuper simple. The reason you do it is that if something tastes good baked, fried, or sautéed, it probably tastes even better grilled. Remember, the grill was the original toaster, so, when you toast slices of angel food cake over a hot grill, you get a flavor that almost -- that reminds me of cotton candy. And then when you pair that with a fresh berry salsa that, yes, has jalapeno chilies in it, you get this kind of sweet aromatic, explosive flavor, tequila flavored whipped cream. My God, it's an apotheosis...
NNAMDIRemember you can join Steve Raichlen tomorrow, Tuesday, July 24, 11:30 a.m., dining room A of the Library of Congress James Madison building. No tickets are needed. He's a culinary ethnographer, television host, master griller and prolific author. Most recent book is -- cookbook is "Best Ribs Ever." His debut novel is "Island Apart." Always a pleasure.
NNAMDIThank you for listening. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
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